Tsunami Tswap-a-roo

Today I tackled a job that I’d been putting off because I thought it would be harder than it turned out to be:

 photo 10Wheeler-NewDecoder_zpsbb5c991f.jpg

My first S scale locomotives were two 10-wheelers built for me by Simon Parent. I took delivery of these a couple of years before I decided to make the switch from “The Standard Gauge of Maine” in On2 scale to the CNR in 1:64.

When Simon built these two locomotives for me, I asked him to install DCC+Sound. It made more sense for him to do this while building them – rather than me taking delivery then dismantling them to do so. And in all that time, I’ve never peeked under the hood.

But at the time, we settled on the Tsunami Light Steam Decoder. This made a lot of sense since these are relatively light locomotives. But…

I’m not enamoured of the Light Steam sounds. The bell is anemic and an auto-ringer: It delivers a series of single strikes – “ding – ding – ding” like a diesel, instead of the “ding-ding – ding-ding – ding-ding” that I associate with steam locomotive bells. What’s more, the chuff is apologetic – more like something one would get out of a garden scale live steam engine than a real locomotive.

Therefore, when I commissioned Simon to build some 2-6-0s for me we picked the Tsunami Medium Steam Decoder – and I’ve been much happier with the sound of the 2-6-0s as a result. The exhaust is throatier and the bell has more presence. The whistles are nicer, too.

I knew at some point I would want to replace the decoders in the 10-wheelers. But with the decoder mounted in the boiler, plus multiple lighting effects and a speaker in the boiler and in the tender, I figured it would be an unpleasant job.

But as with so many things in this hobby, the phrase “Nothing ventured – nothing gained” applies here as well. I realized a few weeks ago that I rarely run the 10-wheelers these days, because I preferred the sound of the 2-6-0s. Since there’s no point in having the locomotives on the layout if I’m not running them, I ordered a couple of replacement decoders.

I could’ve gone with the Tsunami Medium Steam Decoders – like the ones in the 2-6-0s. But I opted instead for Tsumami Heavy Steam Decoders. My rationale was simple: I wanted the 10-wheelers to sound different than the 2-6-0s – and since they’re bigger prototypes I wanted them to sound bigger, too.

While it may seem odd to install a heavy steam decoder in a 4-6-0, keep in mind that on my layout, the 10-wheelers are the heavy power:
CNR 80 and 1560 - lights photo CNR80-CNR1560-StW-Lights_zps0b2f7a58.jpg

I will never run anything larger – because the prototype didn’t, because anything larger looks awful on my 42″ radius curves, and because anything larger won’t fit on the turntable in Port Rowan.

I also really like the style of layout I’m building. I admire layouts that feature long trains snaking through mountains or speeding across wide open spaces – but the railroading that really speaks to me is the stuff that’s up close and personal. And from my experience working as an apprentice fireman on Monson RR #4 at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum, I know that even a tiny 0-4-4T – so small that the engineer routinely sits on the window ledge, with upper body outside of the cab – can sound huge when one is standing next to it.

Given that small models with small speakers already have trouble generating big noise – and given that most people (myself included) don’t actually want big noise in a layout room, because it quickly becomes overwhelming – using the heavy decoders seemed like the best choice. If I were building a more extensive layout and planned to roster larger steam power on it, I would’ve made different choices.

But enough philosophy: Today, I decided to tackle the Tsunami Tswap-a-roo. To my surprise, each locomotive took just 20 minutes, and involved making three easy solder connections then insulating the joints with heat shrink tubing.

Easy peasy – lemon squeezy.

It took longer to program the new decoders than it did to do the exchange.

In part, this is because Simon did a great job designing these kits. I simply popped off the smokebox front and unplugged it, then unplugged and hauled out the front speaker. From that point on, it was easy to lift the superstructure off the mechanism. The Tsunamis have a plug/socket connector that handles most of the wiring (to the right of the purple-wrapped decoder in the lead photo). I had to trim back some purple heat shrink on the decoders to unplug the old and plug in the new. The soldering was confined to the other end of the decoder, and involved two speaker wires and the cam wire to synchronize the exhaust.

(When the speaker is in place, it rides under the decoder, facing down. The bottom of the boiler in this area is perforated to allow the sound out.)

I’ve now programmed the various CVs on the two new decoders – setting volumes, assigning functions to function buttons, creating custom speed tables, and so on. I’m relieved that the 10-wheelers are working as well as they did before I started, and sound better than ever.

I’m glad I took the plunge and look forward to running the 10-wheelers on the layout more often.

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